Ask an Employer: The Value of an Advanced Social Work Education

Is it always worth it to get an advanced education? How do employers in specific fields view the value of a degree?

In our “Ask an Employer” series, we ask leaders and hiring managers from a wide variety of industries about how they view the relationship between education and employment. For this installment, we interviewed Licensed Clinical Social Worker Robert Ross.

Robert Ross

Name: Robert J. Ross
Company: University of Georgia University Health Center
Title: Mental Health Professional — Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Years on the job: 4





As with many professions, responsibilities of being a social worker have evolved over the years. While the profession’s history is based in community organizing and working with vulnerable populations to help them have a voice in promoting their own self-determination, it has changed in that many social workers now have gone into individual and group therapy.

Robert Ross, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), has followed the clinical path that many of his professional peers have followed. “Becoming a LCSW allows a professional to provide clinical therapy, assign mental health diagnosis, and provide legal mental health and substance abuse evaluations for court, among other duties,” Ross said.

Ross was kind enough to discuss more about what it’s like to work and hire others in the field of social work, and his thoughts on why attaining an advanced education can enhance social work careers.

Q: How has education impacted your own career?
A: Education provided me with the words to describe what I already knew through my own experience. It taught me how to better navigate the politics of professional employment, and it emphasized the value of backing up what you want to accomplish with data, whether that be quantitative or qualitative. We must justify why we deserve to have funding, that comes from data.

Also, from a confidence standpoint, I really think my education did a lot for me. To attain an advanced degree is something that is going to help boost anyone’s confidence, particularly if you have taken some time off. I think it shows employers that you have a lot of drive, which is never a bad thing.

Q: What tips would you give for someone considering going back to school?
A: Go! I took 10 years off between my undergraduate and graduate programs. It was the best choice as I was so much more invested in my graduate work because I knew the value of it due to my years of work without an advanced degree. Yes, the loans are challenging, but I accepted that a certain amount of debt is necessary in order to improve my long-term quality of life.

 Q: How valuable is a master’s degree in this line of work?
A: I could not be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker without a master’s degree. I would not be eligible to provide therapy, hold leadership or management positions, serve on boards, or feel knowledgeable enough to provide consultation or feedback to colleagues. The Master of Social Work degree from Colorado State University opened more doors than a bachelor’s ever could open.

Q: Describe any emerging trends you have observed in your field.
A: A lot of people are moving from a being specialists to generalists with a concentration area of focus. Employees must be dynamic and adaptable, more than even 10 years ago. You need to be able to market yourself and your department.

Additionally, we are also increasing our research and data-driven knowledge base in order to better inform the work that we do with communities and growth. The increase in research will not only help to continue to legitimize the value of the work the profession does for both communities and individuals, but also provide consistency across communities.

Q: What are your goals or biggest priorities when hiring new employees?
A: I typically am looking for someone who has a variety of professional experience, but has a concentration in one area. I believe that it’s important to not be a “one-trick pony.” While I think it is good to have an area or two that you are stronger in, I think it is important to be flexible and be able to adapt to new techniques and approaches. Not only does this benefit the organization, but it also ensures that the employee has opportunities for future growth and is dynamic enough to keep up with the changes in the profession.

Q: What challenges have you encountered during the hiring process?
A: One big challenge is the person not knowing enough about our mission, purpose, and guiding principles. If we have information on the website or other material, know that information. Be able to have a conversation about the information. Also, I want someone who understands best practices and is always searching for new research to improve the entire department.

Q: When reviewing resumes and cover letters specific to your business, how important is education?
A: For me, education is important to an extent. I think it allows you to make contacts within the industry, which will better help you with job opportunities. I also think that education provides opportunities for internships and the ability to attend conferences, workshops and clinics. However, I believe that personal and professional experience can be more beneficial.

Q: Why would you say experience is more important?
A: People recall their personal and professional experiences much better, and they also are further ingrained in their character and work ethic. That’s not to take anything away from education, but experience is irreplaceable.

Q: What makes a resume rise to the top of the pile for you?
A: Grammar and the applicant being able to relate the mission of the department to their professional and personal experience. Let me know that you are invested in the department and that it isn’t just a paycheck.

Q:   What makes a resume sink to the bottom of the pile?
A: Poor grammar. If an applicant wants a professional position, then they need to take the time to make their resume and cover letter look professional.

Q: What is the best career advice you have ever received and who was it from?
A: I don’t have a single person, but many people that said the same thing (in different ways): Work to live, don’t live to work. Self-care and quality of life are very important to me and my family, so that advice rings true every day.

Q: What other advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in this field?
A: Be patient. If there is something that you want to do, find the people that can help get you there. But be patient. It will happen based on the choices you make.

Learn about Colorado State University’s distance social work degree and related online certificate programs.

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